Trust in catcher gives McCullers superb start

August 11th, 2020

HOUSTON -- The day after Astros pitcher gave up a career-high-tying eight runs in 3 2/3 innings Wednesday in Arizona, veteran catcher pulled him aside and pleaded with him. He told McCullers to trust his pitch calling the next time he took the mound and not worry about anything else.

McCullers took the advice and delivered one of the best starts of his career by carrying a no-hitter in the seventh inning Monday night and throwing seven scoreless innings, allowing one hit, to send the Astros to a 6-4 win over the Giants in the series opener at Minute Maid Park.

“Maldy came to me after my last start and said ‘Papi, I’m going to put in the work, I’m going to put in the preparation,’” McCullers said. “‘You do your thing and trust me when I go out here.’ I think I shook him [off] three times all night. This game, I mean it’s a lot on him and his ability to call pitches and the way the defense played behind me.”

McCullers retired 19 of the first 20 batters he faced, with the only batter reaching on a hit by pitch to start the third. Donovan Solano broke up the no-hitter with one out in the seventh on a sharp grounder near third base that Astros third baseman Alex Bregman reached for but couldn’t backhand. It went for a double.

“I should have made the play,” Bregman said. “No excuses. The ball needs to be caught and the throw needs to be made. I came up a little bit on it instead of staying down through it. I needed to make that play.”

Solano hit a changeup, which wasn’t what Maldonado called. That was one of the few times the battery wasn’t on the same page. Maldonado joked that McCullers usually shakes him off 150 times in 70 pitches. Not this time.

“I told him, ‘Just give me one game. Just trust in me one game,’” he said. “He agreed to it and it’s not because of that he had a no-hitter into the seventh. He still had to make the pitches. ... I told him after the game today that it’s a lot easier when you’ve just got to go out there and execute the pitches instead of thinking what you should throw. Let me handle that.”

McCullers (2-1) was much more aggressive in the strike zone Monday than he was in Arizona, which increased the times the Giants hunted breaking balls. He pitched with a good tempo and was efficient. He threw 86 pitches.

“That’s the best I’ve seen him so far this year," Astros manager Dusty Baker said.

McCullers maintained he was happy with the way he pitched in Arizona as far as the way he felt and his stuff. The results matter greatly, sure, but pitching in the strike zone and limiting the walks will set him up for success like it did Monday.

“People get it twisted,” he said. “ERA means nothing; wins mean nothing. Going out there and putting it on the line and them knowing that I’m pouring my heart and soul out midweek and the night of [his start] is what matters to me.”

The Astros, who snapped a five-game losing streak, scored four times in the third inning against Giants starter Logan Webb, taking advantage of a pair of errors. Maldonado blasted a line-drive homer in the sixth to make it 6-0. Josh James replaced McCullers to start the eighth and ended up charged with four runs as the Giants made a late charge over the final two frames. Baker had to summon closer Ryan Pressly to get the final three outs.

“We needed the win very badly,” he said.